Tonight’s World Series watch party is cancelled

The Boston Red Sox had the nerve to win the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers last night before I was ready to be done watching baseball for the year. I didn’t necessarily want to keep watching these two teams play each other, since Boston seemed to hold a fairly convincing edge over L.A., but that pairing was the only option here at the end.

The primary purpose of this post is to record in this digital log book the above image of an advertisement for a watch party for game one of the 1907 World Series (excuse me, World’s Championship) between the Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs. I like the idea that, long before teams were inviting fans into their otherwise-empty arenas to watch road championship games together, fans were gathering to watch an intern tack scribbled game updates on a “giant bulletin board” outside the newspaper office. There being no television at that time, and radio broadcasts of games still being more than a decade away, this proto-ESPN Gamecast offering was your best option if you didn’t want to wait until the next day to find out what happened. Thankfully, October 8, 1907, was a fairly warm and dry day in Detroit (high 68, low 41, no recorded precipitation), but one imagines this was no guarantee.

Speaking of a lack of guarantees, there was no guarantee that Steve Pearce even was going to play in the World Series, much less be named its most valuable player. He started the season as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, joining the Red Sox by way of a June 28 trade. He wasn’t a regular starter for Boston, and the thirty-five-year-old likely would not even have had the opportunity for significant postseason playing time but for an injury to Mitch Moreland.

My in-progress model generally supports the decision to name Pearce the MVP. In the postseason, only Yasiel Puig did more to contribute to his team’s championship chances than Pearce, and those two clearly separated themselves from the rest of the pack. (A nod here to Josh Hader, whose amazing performance as the tip of Milwaukee manager Craig Counsel’s aggressive bullpen spear kept him at or near the top of the cWPA leaderboard even after the Dodgers eliminated the Brewers in the NLCS.)

And here begins the MLB offseason. This week, watch for Clayton Kershaw’s Wednesday deadline to decide whether to opt out of the last two years of his contract (in which the Dodgers would owe him roughly $35 million per year), as well as Saturday’s deadline for teams to make qualifying offers to free agents, a crop of players that includes Pearce, as well as Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson, Dallas Keuchel, Andrew Miller, Andrew McCutchen, Craig Kimbrel, Yasmani Grandal, Nathan Eovaldi, Cody Allen, Jose Iglesias, Adam Jones, Adrian Beltre, and many others.

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Game 162: Talking baseball at the end of the 2016 regular season

Every MLB team is in action beginning at 3:00 this afternoon for the final* day of the 2016 regular season. Before heading down to Turner Field to catch the Tigers and say farewell to baseball in downtown Atlanta, I was a guest on today’s episode of the Banished to the Pen Podcast, in which I rambled about wild card scenarios and made severely underinformed playoff predictions.

Stream or download the podcast here.

* Final as to all except Detroit and Cleveland, which likely will need to play a makeup game tomorrow.

Catching Fire: Tigers offered another opportunity tonight against Pomeranz

pom

The Detroit Tigers are not out of the playoff hunt, but without any new faces likely to join their band during this in-season trade period, the team is going to need to take advantage of every beneficial opportunity the schedule affords them if their playoff push is to succeed.

The good news: on balance, that schedule is a favorable one.

remaining-schedule-strength

Detroit has the easiest post-All-Star break schedule among the AL Central teams, and they’ve held steady in second place for a few weeks now. First-place Cleveland has maintained a roughly six-game lead, though, and the Tigers also have been stuck at about four games back in the AL Wild Card chase as well.

Recent losses by relevant teams in both of those races– Boston, Cleveland, and Toronto– created an opportunity for the Tigers to make significant gains on both the divisional and wild card fronts. Detroit fumbled that opportunity, though, dropping two of three against the Twins and two of four against the White Sox.

They have yet another opportunity tonight at Fenway Park, though. Justin Verlander has been excellent again this season, and he’ll start tonight against the newest member of the Red Sox rotation, Drew Pomeranz. Detroit’s batters should be salivating.

As Joe Sheehan pointed out when Boston dealt a top prospect to San Diego in exchange for the Padres pitcher, Pomeranz isn’t exactly a model of endurance:

Pomeranz is up to 105 innings pitched heading into tonight’s start, and the twenty-seven-year-old doesn’t exactly have a track record of getting better as the season progresses:

pomxfiproll

Those late-season climbing trends in his xFIP indicate that Pomeranz, like many pitchers, tends to perform worse as his seasonal workload accumulates. He’s made one start for Boston so far, and it went badly. He lasted only three innings, surrendering five earned runs on eight hits, two of them homers.

Tonight’s game represents another good opportunity for Detroit to make progress toward a playoff spot. Even if that’s just a one-game wild card spot, this may be the closest they come to postseason action for some time, and they need to make the most of it.

First pitch is at 7:10 on ESPN.

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Previously
Catching Fire: Brad Ausmus is not saying, he’s just saying – 7/8
Catching Fire: Ian Kinsler is the San Francisco Giants of the MLB All Star Game – 7/6
Catching Fire: Night of a thousand feet of home runs – 6/21
Catching Fire: Pelf on the shelf – 6/16
Catching Fire: When is it okay to stop short? – 6/15
Catching Fire: Heading for the exit velocity – 5/17

Catching Fire: Boy, the starters need to carry that weight a longer time – 5/3
Catching Fire: Who’s Number Two? – 5/2

Related
Statements both obvious and only slightly less obvious about the Detroit Tigers’ finances
Shift the shift: Victor Martinez and counter-strategies
Feel like they never tell you the story of the Gose?
Getting to know Jordan Zimmermann in context
Highlights from MLB Network’s visit to Detroit Tigers spring training
2016 Detroit Tigers Season Preview: They’re Not Dead Yet

Shift the shift: Victor Martinez and counter-strategies

victormartinez_2014_2

The defensive shift– repositioning infielders from their conventional locations in response to a particular batter’s hitting tendencies– may be the most significant development in baseball defense since pitchers started actually trying to miss bats with their pitches. The basic idea is that defenses can take advantage of certain hitters who are known to possess extreme tendencies in terms of batted ball direction by loading up their infield defense in line with that batter’s tendencies.

David Ortiz is a decent example of a batter with a definite tendency to hit the ball in a particular direction. Here is a spray chart showing where he hit every ball during the 2012-2014 seasons:

dortizspray2012-14

Ortiz is a top-tier power hitter, so it isn’t surprising that he’s peppered the entire field. Focusing on his ground balls, though, reveals a pretty strong tendency to hit grounders to the right side of the infield. Opposing teams noticed and began to counter Ortiz defensively by shifting against him.

Probably the most common way to arrange a defensive shift is to move the second baseman into shallow right field, move the shortstop to the first-base side of second base, and shade the third baseman heavily toward second base. Teams also employ less and more extreme variations of this basic shift. Because a fielder needs to remain close to first base, teams almost exclusively shift to overload the right side of the infield. This, in turn, means that teams almost always shift, if at all, against left-handed hitters, who, as a population, generally hit the ball to the right. Ortiz is a lefty, and his spray chart evidences the expected pattern.

No player faced a full defensive shift more than Ortiz in 2015, when opposing defenses shifted on more than sixty-three-percent of his plate appearances. The most effective antidote for the shift is a bunt to the exposed third-base side, but Ortiz, now at forty years old and at least 6’3″ and 230 pounds, has not been the bunting sort of late or, really, ever. He’s a big, left-handed power hitter in the last year of his career, and, as concerns the defensive shift, he’s just going to have to take his lumps.

A little further down that list of 2015’s most-shifted appears Victor Martinez in the #22 spot. Martinez spent much of 2015 injured, so he only made 485 plate appearances, seeing a full shift on roughly forty-three percent of them. Like Ortiz, Martinez is heavier, slow, and hits from the left side, and his 2012-2014 spray chart shows similar batted-ball tendencies to Ortiz’s:

vmartspray2012-14lh

One way in which Martinez is unlike Ortiz, though, is that, while both bat left-handed, Martinez also bats right-handed. Continue reading

Window Shopping: We Got Robbed

The Detroit Tigers shot out to a hot start in 2015, but things have not been too good for Detroit since then. They’ve won just five of their last thirteen series. The team’s active six-game losing streak is its longest in four seasons.

The title of this year’s serial Tigers feature at this site, Window Shopping, comes from the common theme of Detroit season previews that, with respect to a World Series championship, the team was trying to keep open its “window of opportunity,” assuming that proverbial window had not already slammed shut under the weight of expensive long-term contracts, aging players, and perceived defensive burdens.

After the last month and a half, though, it is as if these window shoppers, gazing upon the Commissioner’s Trophy in a fancy Harrod’s storefront display (did we fight the Revolution for nothing??), reached into their back pockets in consideration of making the eventual purchase, only to find they suddenly had no money, no credit cards, no traveler’s checks, nothing. They’ve been robbed.

The Tigers are in a tailspin, and it isn’t exactly anyone else’s fault. Their recent struggles have come in games against teams largely regarded as mediocre or worse, including the Athletics, Angels, and Brewers. What’s happening?

After starting the season with an 11-2 record, the Tigers have gone 17-24, and their performance somehow has felt even worse. By my count, since April 21, the date they entered with that 11-2 mark, Detroit has a -19 run differential. Only two other American League teams– the White Sox and Red Sox– have worse run differentials during that period, and only one AL team, Toronto (187), has allowed more runs over that span than Detroit’s 185. Of course, the Blue Jays also scored 213 runs in those games, a number that dwarfs the Tigers’ 166 and is the most in the league. On the other hand, just seven AL teams have scored fewer than 166 runs since April 21, and two of them, Kansas City and Tampa Bay, still maintained positive run differentials. (Both Sox teams, along with Seattle, Baltimore, and Oakland round out this low-scoring group.) In terms of offense and defense (the fundamental terms of competitive team sports), it’s hard to be worse than Detroit right now.

Offense fueled the Tigers’ strong start, and its disappearance has triggered their decline. They averaged 5.38 runs per game through April 20. Since then, though, they’ve scored just 4.05 runs per game, a drop of more than a run and a third. Omit a blowout 13-1 win against the Twins on May 14, and that per-game scoring average falls to 3.83. No bueno.   Continue reading

A fresh glance at Babe Ruth, upon the resumption of baseball

My latest post at Banished to the Pen contributes to the spirit of the opening of a new baseball season with a quick look back at one of the game’s most accomplished players.

It is nice to see the rookies of today showing respect for their elders, but modern celebrants of the game sometimes fear that reexaminations of their childhood heroes will alter their images and understandings of past giants in adverse fashion. For Babe Ruth, a truncated, targeted retrospective does serve to modify the Ruthian folk zeitgeist, but, in his case, it does so exclusively to enhance the stature of the Sultan.

The full post is available here.

When do baseball teams score runs?

baseballline

One of the marks of a smart baseball writer is the ability to sense a trend, research its existence and nature, place her findings in context, and present her conclusions in a way that meaningfully educates readers. Inherent in this ability is the wherewithal to know when to stop researching a trend or pressing on a concept, realizing that the fruits of the work have been or soon will be exhausted. Sometimes a person who is not a “smart baseball writer” by the foregoing definition will noodle about on an idea for so long, he’ll end up with a small pile of research that no longer has any bearing on any meaningful conclusions.

Two years ago, I decided to investigate a hunch that the Detroit Tigers were having trouble scoring runs late in games. My initial research mostly seemed to support my hypothesis, and a follow-up look appeared to confirm it more strongly. More than merely interesting (and fleetingly self-satisfying), it also was informatively concerning, because it placed the team’s well-known bullpen problems in a more nuanced light: relief-pitching woes alone weren’t the problem, because the lack of late-game scoring was compounding the problem of surrendering leads during the final frames. As strange as it seemed, the Tigers had interrelated shortcomings on both sides of the plate.

One comment I received in the course of sharing those findings stuck with me: I needed to place this information in context. After all, there are plausible reasons to believe that all teams might, perhaps to varying extents, experience decreased run production in the late innings.

And so it was that, two years later, I finally discovered Retrosheet, a site that compiles inning-by-inning scoring data to a more useful degree than the resources I’d utilized back in 2013. What follows are two graphs of the inning-by-inning scoring of sixteen teams for the 2014 season. Continue reading

ALDLAND Podcast

The World Series is here and the ALDLAND Podcast is here to talk about it. Boston . . . St. Louis . . . playing baseball. What more could you want? College football, of course, and there’s plenty of that as your favorite cohosts preview all the interesting week 9 matchups.

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Download the ALDLAND podcast at our Podcasts Page or stream it right here:

ALDLAND Podcast

No World Series preview . . . yet, but Marcus and I are happy to share our thoughts on the ALCS and NLCS so far. We also touch on Ndamukong Suh’s latest fine, as well as all of the college football picks you could ever want.

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Download the ALDLAND podcast at our Podcasts Page or stream it right here: